Dear Ron, Jason, all the writers and every member of the cast of “Parenthood”:
I owe all of you an apology.
A big one.
Back when your new show “Parenthood” premiered (how could that have been six seasons ago? seems like forever, yet not long enough) I underestimated you.
I mean, I seriously underestimated you.
I wrote in this post that I thought you were going to be yet another copycat family drama that we’d seen countless times before.
They’re all similarly formulaic. A white, upper-middle class family where everyone is more good-looking and put together than the next person. A matriarch and old-fashioned patriarch intact …a long-brewing kettle of DNA dysfunction. A family where you need a family tree cheat sheet to figure who is married to or divorced from who and who has slept with who and who wants to sleep with who. A home (usually in California) ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest where everyone eats gourmet meals together on gorgeous plates and secrets are spilled while cleaning up the mess. Tonight, the Bravermans join the mix, and they fit the bill perfectly. They are, according to the script above, right out of Central Casting.
What really irked me – and what made me skeptical, and even a little bit angry – was the inclusion of the Asperger’s storyline. It felt gratuitous. Pandering. A cheap shot. It certainly wasn’t how I felt like relaxing after work, which at that time, included a 3 hour commute every day.
Then yesterday, I heard about the Asperger’s storyline in Parenthood and thought – CUT! No freakin’ way. NO FREAKIN’ WAY I am spending an hour watching this. If I want to see a drama involving Asperger’s, I’ll watch the drama right here in my family room. Besides, I was convinced there’s no freakin’ way they will even come close to getting it. Not to mention, there’s another unmentionable aspect of this show that slams pretty close to home, so … yeah. No thank you.
I wanted no part of this show.
Of course I watched anyway. All in the name of the blog, mind you. Either way I would probably get a post out of it.
Which I did.
Max Burkholder is brilliant as Max Braverman, who in this first episode, is considered by school officials to have Asperger’s Syndrome. The frustrations over what is for others a simple fine-motor task in the classroom leading to a meltdown and biting incident (been there, done that), the brilliantly portrayed breakdown by Peter Krause and Monica Potter of the parents when the fear and uncertainty of the diagnosis sinks in while life goes on around them (that scene was particularly tough for me to watch – did that bring home the moment of diagnosis for anyone else?), the wearing the pirate costume to school each day, the missed social cues.
I thought this premiere episode had to be a fluke. How could one person’s experience get translated accurately onto the screen in such a way that could be universally felt by so many, including those who aren’t on this particular parenting journey? How were you going to keep this up, week after week after week?
That’s what I doubted. I didn’t think you could do it – and I certainly didn’t think it could be done well. I fully expected to hate “Parenthood,” to write bitchy ranty blog posts about how you got some aspect of Asperger’s oh-so-woefully wrong. Because you didn’t know me and the Asperger’s world I knew. You didn’t live in my house.
At least not yet.
Sure, I knew that Jason had personal experience as a parent of a child with Asperger’s but as those of us in this community are fond of saying, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
It’s too early, I think, to say if “Parenthood” will become a groundbreaking show in this area – much as “St. Elsewhere” (my all-time favorite show, ever) was progressive in its day by having a child with autism as a central character – but I think “Parenthood” is off to a very good start. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Because make no mistake, I will most definitely be watching.
We’re a bunch of mama bears, those of us who have kids on the autism spectrum. Just look at all the crap you’ve gotten for Kristina’s frequent use of “buddy” as a term of endearment with Max, and how much their parenting philosophy is often criticized on the comment boards. We’re used to that from our own real-life families – people who think all we need to do is spank our kids a little more often or feed them a little less sugar and their issues will miraculously disappear.
So perhaps that was why, six seasons ago, I felt a little protective of Max Braverman – and of Adam and Kristina, too. I wanted you to do right by him, by them.
Maybe it sounds dramatic, but thinking back to 2010, perhaps I was at a point where I needed you to do right by all of us. As in, the entire autism community.
An unfair, unspoken burden, perhaps. But you know what?
For six seasons, you did exactly that and succeeded. You were our voice to others who needed to see the small big moments of our lives, how we feel when we’re overwhelmed for our kid’s future or when we don’t know how to tell a sibling what she needs to hear.
You transformed how people view people with autism. You shattered age-old stereotypes.
I didn’t trust that you could do that.
So, I’m sorry that I doubted all of you but so glad that I was wrong.
Which leaves just one more thing left to say.
UPDATED TO ADD: And an additional thank you to BlogHer for featuring a version of this post on January 30. Click here to read “I Was Wrong About the Asperger’s Storyline in Parenthood.”